The Loving Father

   Looking at the so called story of the" Prodigal Son" from a different point of view.


       Recovery gives everything old a new perspective and the story of the “Prodigal Son1” is no exception. As I have been learning new ways of behaving with my own young adult son recently, the story opened up some areas I had never seen before.


One of the toughest areas of recovery I have dealt with is that of being a dysfunctional father. Stripped of denial (as best as I can, one day at a time) I look hard and long at the legacy I’ve passed on so far to my four kids. Don’t get me wrong, it is never too late to reverse the effects of a dysfunctional family system but the pain is still there as I get honest with myself. It is one thing to apologize to one's kids and make a commitment to treat them with respect from today on and another to live with the pain I have caused. Fortunately this is not about BLAMING but NAMING behavior by working the Steps program.


I always thought achieving fatherhood to the degree in the story of “The Loving Father” (“The Prodigal Son”) was all very nice but I knew I could never love unconditionally like that after being hurt so badly by my older kids.  But let’s look at the story through recovery eyes instead.


First, what I see is a Father that isn’t hung up in tradition. When the son asked for his inheritance before the father died, he gave it to him. That might have upset me a bit but we don’t get a sense of the Father even resenting the fact the son could hardly wait to leave home nor for the Father to die to get his hands on what was “due him”. Nor do we see the father in the least resentful that the youth might blow the wad that he, the father, had worked so hard to accumulate. He wasn’t “in to control”, in fact, he was “in to trusting”. He knew control was an illusion anyway and a waste of time and energy. He was willing to risk losing what he knew he could not by force keep.


The second thing I see here is that the father was not into rescuing or caretaking. For all we know he could have known exactly where his son was and the condition of his life. Yet he allowed him the dignity to find himself and make the choice to return home when he was ready to. The father was still a wealthy man even when he gave his son his portion. So he could’ve “bailed” him out but instead allowed the son the consequences of his choices. So when he finally did come to his senses he knew he could trust his father not to hold a grudge but treat him fairly. Too many times I have been bailed out, so to speak, and it has taken me 44 years to learn the valuable lessons that can come as a result of bad or poor choices.


Thirdly, the picture I now get is that of a father looking expectantly in the direction he knew his son would be coming from when he did head home. No ringing of hands, no ulcers or panic attacks, just confidence. And when he did finally see him, he made moves of reconciliation towards the son too. Forgiveness led him to the dusty trail leading home to meet and embrace the son who made a mistake but wasn’t a mistake. Acceptance of individual differences made the run to his son lighter, no need for revenge, just compassion.


Lastly, out of the corner of my eye comes the other son. In spite of being raised by a functional father he too needed to learn from all this. In the best of situations we still are human subject to err in our choices and perceptions of life. We keep looking for justice and fortunately there is none, only mercy at the hands of a just God. This tells us that it isn’t what happens to us that counts but what we do with it that does.


Now I’m sure these were not the only recovery issues touched in the story. I had only two when I started a while ago and look what happened. The main point of this is that as we look at Scripture and use it, we need to use it wisely and lovingly. It is meant as a healing balm, good for recovery. So hitting someone over the head with it definitely is not what God intended.


As for my sons and daughters? That’s the beauty of it all! I get to creatively learn to father differently than the way I was raised. And my kids are letting me know when I’m getting it closer to “The Loving Father”; we all get to win!


Footnote:  1 Luke 15:11-32


Update 12/27/21 (30 years later)


  • The younger son passed away suddenly in his sleep in June 2020.
  • The pain of loss of a granddaughter by suicide at sixteen.
  • Next month Elaine and I will celebrate 20 years in my third marriage that has given me two more daughters to love and value.
  • Our family has exploded from the six children into an assortment of grandchildren, great grands, spouses and partners to 45 as we embrace His gifts with love.
  • The relationships I now have with my son and two daughters are what I wanted and so much, much more.  I am blessed beyond measure, they allow me to enjoy their journeys, dreams, and struggles.
  • Still practicing recovery, one day at a time


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